April 22, 2016

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I've had the privilege of working remote for almost 5 years here at LivingSocial. Remote work still gets big time plugs, but it seems many places, including young, hip startups don't buy it, that co-location is an important attribute for a team.

And I get it. Co-location was a big deal in the Agile movement to help foster communication. But having worked remotely for 5, managing 3 teams of almost 100% remote employees, why don't I care?

I think the co-location agile pushes has much more to do with communication than proximity. Proximity can greatly drive down communication costs, but these days with Slack and Google Hangouts (to name but a couple), communication can be had without proximity.

Want to build a great team? Google studied this for a long time, and on a recent Freakonomics podcast (How to Be More Productive), Stephen Dubner interviewed Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google about their Project Aristotle.

After analyzing data from 200 teams across Google of all varieties, they derived five “norms” the best teams at Google had. Things that weren't on the list?

... in the academic research it says consensus-driven decision-making is often better than top-down direction. And academic research says workload matters a lot. Having teams in the same location. We actually found none of those things were in the top five of what mattered in terms of effectiveness for teams. (around the 24 minute mark)

What did top the list?
the most important attribute of a high-performing team is not who leads it or who’s on it or how many people or where it is. It's psychological safety.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit elaborates:
Which means that everyone at the table feels like they have the opportunity to speak up, and they all feel like each other is actually listening to them, as demonstrated by the fact that their teammates are sensitive to nonverbal cues.

Bock continues:
We ask if the team members feel that they can fail openly or do they feel that they are going to be shunned by failing? We ask, do they feel as if other team members are supporting or undermining them?

Or, as I would say it, they're on a team that doesn't shame them. See BeyondImpostorSyndrome for more.

The four other norms Bock identifies are Dependability, Structure and Clarity, Meaning, and Impact. He also tacks on the importance of actually doing 1:1s, and making sure everyone feels included, don't let the dominators dominate.

Which I love.

But I love umpteen times more the first point.

Low shame teams beat out other factors. So does low shame anything.

If you're outsourcing your soft skills to the fringe of your organization (or congregation, or marriage, or friendship ...), you're prolly not doing it right. You're probably also bored and/or frustrated out of your mind.